EU plans more legal action against governments soft on car emissions cheating

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union plans more legal action soon against governments that have failed to police emissions test cheating by carmakers in the wake of the Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE diesel scandal, a top official said on Thursday.

EU Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska holds a news conference on the European Defence Action Plan in Brussels, Belgium November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Vidal

In a bid to prevent a rerun of the VW scandal, the European Commission has proposed an overhaul of rules on how vehicles are licensed and tested across the bloc. A draft bill, which would bolster EU oversight, won the backing of the European Parliament’s internal market committee in a vote on Thursday.

But it still faces a tough battle to be approved by member states, with EU industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska accusing governments of obstructing the bloc’s efforts to rein in what it sees as wayward behavior by the car industry.

“Member states really failed to enforce the law,” Bienkowska told the EU lawmakers. “I feel they are still playing for time.”

Amid mounting frustration over what Brussels sees as governments colluding with carmakers, it began legal cases against Germany, Britain and five other EU members in December.

Bienkowska said there were a lot more cases to come in the coming months. “But these are very limited tools,” she added. “We need a new type approval system.”


The draft law, which will tackle conflicts of interest when national regulators inspect and certify cars made by their own domestic manufacturers, will now go to a plenary vote next month.

But some countries have balked at the reforms.

“There are elements of this that are going to be very tough,” Conservative lawmaker Daniel Dalton, who is steering the bill through Parliament, told Reuters. “But member states can’t act in isolation.”

After VW admitted to using software to mask the levels of health-harming emissions from some of its diesel cars, several European countries ran their own investigations.

They revealed on-road nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions as high as 15 times the regulatory limits, as well as the use of defeat devices to reduce exhaust treatment.

The use of such devices is illegal under EU law, but car manufacturers have invoked an EU legal loophole that allows them to use software to scale back emissions controls when necessary to protect car engines. All deny breaking the law.

Seeking to close this loophole, the Commission issued guidance last month on how members of the 28-nation bloc should apply the rules.

Under the reforms, Brussels would get powers to carry out vehicle spot-checks and levy fines, while national authorities would be able to peer-review each other’s decisions.

Currently, vehicles can only be recalled by the country that licensed them, although they can be sold across the bloc.

The bill also seeks to break cozy relations between carmakers and the firms they hire to test new vehicles by introducing a non-direct payment mechanism.

Lawmakers also call for on-road checks on a minimum of 20 percent of car models per year across Europe.

Additional reporting by Waverly Colville; Editing by Ed Osmond and Susan Fenton